Wednesday, September 18, 2013

From the Stacks: Elaborate Mother-of-Pearl Bindings

During our recent collections move, we had a chance to discover forgotten treasures hidden in the stacks. While re-shelving the book collection, we came across not one, but two rare examples of papier-mâché bindings. These lovely items have book covers made of layered paper, coated in black varnish and decorated with paint and inlaid mother-of-pearl. Papier-mâché bindings were popular for a brief time in the 1850s, often on gift books, portfolios, and albums.


The first book is Our Saviour with Prophets and Apostles (New York, 1851). This cover features a landscape scene with a ship, framed in gold. Three of the four mother-of-pearl cover bosses are still intact on the upper cover. The upper cover has some cracking and loss of painted details.


The second book is The Iris: An Illuminated Souvenir for MDCCCLII (Philadelphia, 1852). This cover design includes a bouquet of flowers in the center of a black background. The flowers are made of mother-of-pearl, embellished with tinted varnish and gold leaf.

An excellent source on the history and construction of these bindings is Jennifer W. Rosner's essay, "Papier-Mâché Bindings: 'Shining in Black and Gorgeous with Pearl and Gold'" in Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding (Legacy Press, 2013). The Library Company of Philadelphia has perhaps the best collection of papier-mâché bindings, including 49 books and 8 portfolio covers. The collection can be viewed online on Flickr.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Today in History: World Beard Day

Post by Jayne Ptolemy, Reading Room Supervisor

In honor of the upcoming celebration of World Beard Day on Saturday, September 7, Clements Library offers up this small sampling of the luxuriant beards found in our extensive Graphics Division. For example, amidst the thousands of photographs in the David V. Tinder Cabinet Card Photograph Collection, one can find beards of every type.

We have pious beards and devilish beards.


We have fancy beards and full beards.


We have partial beards and people who wish they had any beard at all.


We have beards to make a barber quiver and quake!



While exploring our Graphics Division’s collection of photographs and prints, you’ll see these beards and many more, all bearing witness to the glorious history of facial hair in America and giving you a glimpse into changing fashions and definitions of gender. And don’t even get us started on the mustaches …